Unsettled criminal cases surge after Sewol

Since the Sewol ferry disaster on April 16, an increasing number of criminal cases have remained unresolved due to a recent shortage in the number of investigators.

As the prosecution has been prioritising the manhunt for fugitive Yoo Byung-eun, the owner of the capsized ferry, the number of unsettled cases has surged, data from the Supreme Prosecutors' Office showed Monday.

The prosecution, in close coordination with police and other state agencies, has been going all out to capture the irregularity-ridden business tycoon for about three months. Yoo and his family members associated with Chonghaejin Marine Co. have been suspected of bringing about the sinking tragedy as they neglected the safety of the vessel.

The Incheon District Prosecutors' Office reported around 7,100 unsettled cases as of June. While the monthly average was 3,990 from January to March, it has continued to grow since April.

The number of unresolved criminal cases under investigation by the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office, which is taking the initiative in the manhunt for Yoo and his family members, climbed to 4,936 in April and 6,099 in May.

The Gwangju District Prosecutors' Office, which is in charge of probing the Coast Guard, had more than 3,500 unresolved cases as of June, up 78.9 per cent from the January-March average. The office's Mokpo unit saw the figure jump to 1,145 last month from an average of 679 in the first three months of this year.

The Busan District Prosecutors' Office, tasked with scrutinising corruption in the marine transport industry, saw a 60 per cent increase in unresolved cases to 3,927 during the cited period, according to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office data.

A prosecutor said that prosecutors who are suddenly tasked with solving big cases normally rely on other prosecutors to take over their old cases, and due to the transition it takes much longer to wrap up old cases.

"This has led to a surge in the number of unresolved cases," he said.

Further, the prosecution said it would ask the court to again issue an arrest warrant for Yoo as the current warrant, issued by the Incheon District Court on May 22, expires on July 22.

According to investigators on Monday, its action comes as the prosecution believes the ferry owner is still hiding somewhere in Korea.

Usually, the prosecution suspends its efforts to indict a suspect if the person is believed to have fled abroad.